19.50 Miles in the Wild Indian Peaks Wilderness

August 5, 2012

I only have a few days left in Colorado. That realization dawned on me on Friday night. And I then I remembered that I still hadn’t run the Indian Peaks Wilderness “Marathon.”

Last year I somehow stumbled onto Charles Danforth’s site where he detailed a 27-mile loop starting from Brainard Lake and going over Buchanan Pass and Pawness Pass before returning back to Brainard Lake. Since reading about it, I’ve become semi-obsessed with it but could never manage getting it into my schedule. (I did have one severely ill-fated attempt in May last year.)

So, despite the fact that I ran my first 100-miler less than a week ago, I thought, let’s just go for it.

I got a little late start and realized that it’d be a struggle to get in before the sun set. Charles said it took he and his companion 9-1/2 hours. I foolishly figured it’d take me just 6 or 7.

There were a few things that were against me:

  • I had just run 100 miles. So there was that.
  • I was trying out a new Ultimate Direction pack that holds more water (2.8 liters) but is considerably heavier than my 2-liter Nathan vest.
  • I’m still not sure I’d re-acclimated back to high elevation.

All of these thing became apparent as just the climb up to the Mount Audubon had me sucking wind. The trail was very rocky too which made holding a steady pace tough.

Things improved a bit as the trail started to slope down to the bottom of Coney Flats. The inviting, forested single-track through the woods improved my mood. There were some pretty incredible mushroom growth along the trails that would’ve made Mario jealous too.

But what goes down must go back up. I began the 4-mile climb up to Buchanan Pass. Some of the wildflowers along this section of trail were absolutely spectacular. Lots of flowing water from the remaining snowmelt too. Set against the gray mountains in the background, and you have one spectacular view.

I passed the tree line and emerged into the sun, looking up at the pass above me. At this point, the trail got so steep there was zero point in running it so I just dug in and took on the climb. All around me marmots looked on worriedly as fluffy gray pikas chirped all around.

A good 45 minutes later I was at the top of the pass, with the wind whipping me and everything else around. Checking my watch and my legs, I knew there was no way I was going to make it around the loop. That’s OK. I still felt pretty good about doing this just a week after Grand Mesa. In fact, I felt pretty darn good about it so I decided I’d just enjoy myself. I slipped on my windbreaker, broke out my PB&J, laid down in the sun and had myself a little micro-nap 11,837 feet on top of the Continental Divide. Not bad.

After getting up, I loped down the trail back to the tree line. By the time I made it back to Coney Flats and had to climb out, my legs were pretty toast. Add to that, my stomach started to react adversely to the ibuprofen I’d taken. My run slowed to a hike and stayed there for the rest of the afternoon.

It actually wasn’t so bad. Once I started trail running, I stopped hiking. So it was actually nice to just be out taking everything in. As I moved along, I came across all kinds of different animals: flocks of grouse, a few deer scattering and plenty of curious pika perching themselves on rocks along the trail.

Just as the sun was beginning to set I made it back to the car. Not my best run ever, but damn, it was probably the most spectacular one I’ve ever been on. Absolutely gorgeous. I can’t wait to get out there and tackle it again.

Well hello.

Looking back ove the shoulder towards the Divide.

The rocky trail up to the Mountain Audubon Trail turnoff.

St. Vrain Mountain in the distance.

All-natural bouquet.

This is a real mushroom. Really.

Wildflower trails.

Not sure what these are, but I know they’re awesome.

Looking up about 1,500 to the top of Buchanan Pass.

The long trail to the top.

The last remaining snow field.

Looking back down.



The top.

The Continental Divide and a nap.

PB&J at 11,873 feet.

Looking back down into valley.

Earth and sky.

The scorching sun on the way back.

Plenty of snowmelt still flying.

Some of these streams seem fake.

Just spectacular.


Setting sun through the trees.

Lovely water.

Even more shroomin’.

Looking east towards the Stapp Lakes and Beaver Reservoir.

Long shadows at the end of a long afternoon.

Up close with a Colorado Tansy Aster.

Purple on gray.

Hanging out with a pika.

Not bad.

Back at Brainard.